The Misunderstood Messiah: Jesus’ Friends Don’t Get It 

The Misunderstood Messiah: Jesus’ Friends Don’t Get It  April 10, 2019
Jesus rebuking Peter.
“Get behind me, Satan,” Jesus says on Peter’s refusal to understand.

Mark relates several stories where Jesus is apparently successful, but the success is only apparent. He performs miracles—casts out a demon, cures Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever, cures several other people, casts out several other demons. He ends up with crowds of people following him. It sounds like the opposite of the story in Luke where Jesus is rejected by his hometown(See previous post.) But here too Jesus has a problem. You might call it the Messiah problem.

According to Mark nobody understood Jesus during his lifetime, not even his closest followers. Jesus’ miracles were signs of the coming of God’s Kingdom to everyone. People took them as proof that one person in their midst had a lot of power. Such a one would be able to win freedom from Rome. He would be the powerful Messiah, who would restore the glories of Israel’s past.

Peter’s “revelation” about the Messiah

This lack of understanding features prominently in a story about Peter. As a Catholic, believing Peter to be the first in a long line of popes, I always felt uncomfortable with the second half of the following story: (Mark 8:27-33) 

One day while Jesus and his disciples were walking along, Jesus asked two questions. First, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples had some ready answers: “John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.” Then Jesus sharpened the challenge: “But who do you say that I am.” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus praised Peter effusively: “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven.” 

Revelation or not, as the story continues, Peter shows that he does not understand Jesus at all:  

Jesus warned the apostles not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. (Jesus needed people to understand who the Messiah really was first.) He began to teach them that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders and chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” 

Along with scholars like Raymond Brown (An Introduction to New Testament Christology, p. 46), I don’t think Jesus said the last few words in italics. If he had, it would be hard to explain the apostles’ despair at Jesus’ death and their surprise at the resurrection. Jesus death would have had a non-human quality about it if he had known all along that it was such a temporary thing. And the next part of the story would make less sense. On the other hand, Jesus could very well have predicted his rejection and even death. Many martyrs, even to our own day, have done the same. Think of Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero. 

Peter, the devil 

Peter “took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.” No way was torture and death going to be the fate of any Messiah that Peter believed in. Jesus’ reply to poor, well-meaning Peter was swift and harsh: “Get behind me, Satan.”  

Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, never tells us exactly how the devil tempts Jesus in the desert. Here Mark shows the devil appearing in the guise of Jesus’ number one disciple with a temptation that is quite a bit like those told by Matthew and Luke. 

The weakness of God 

An atheist challenges God:

If you really exist why don’t you just prove it? A few simple tricks would do it. Break the laws of nature before our very eyes and we will believe in you.

For Jesus, though, knowing that God exists isn’t enough. He insists that we understand who God is. Atheists like the one of the previous paragraph look for a god completely different from Jesus’ God. That’s all they would find if God answered the challenge. In the same way Peter knew a fact without understanding it. Nothing Jesus could do, but only what Jesus eventually suffered, would cure Peter’s blindness.  

Maybe it’s the same way with God. Maybe the things that God wants most, like to touch the mind of the atheist, is something divine power alone can’t accomplish. Do our attempts to do the same, overwhelming an atheist with facts that science can’t explain, accomplish any more than point the atheist toward the wrong god? God desires to change the heart of the sinner. Does God’s power suffice for that, or would it only change the heart into something less than a heart 

I trust that God will do everything divinely possible to keep close all people, you, me, believer and non-believer alike, in this life and the next. But even an infinitely powerful God has no guarantee of success when it comes to human freedom. 

Image credit: Pinterest via Google Images

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  • The problem with all of this is that there’s no evidence that any of it is true – only claims made in an ancient book. Atheists don’t demand miracles. Any evidence will do. If prayer worked, that would be good enough. But studies show it doesn’t. In fact, they show that it can have a negative effect. Added to this, we have lots of evidence showing that claims made in the Bible are not true: the global flood, for example, never happened.

    It’s all well and good to believe in something for which there’s no evidence. But problems start to arise when we start acting on those beliefs, especially when the holy book that records those beliefs has some disturbing advice. For example, anyone who takes 2 Chronicles 15:13 seriously would be a dangerous person for anyone who was not Jewish or Christian to be around. And many people exist who believe these passages wholeheartedly. For example:

    On 26 February 2006 in North Carolina, 4 year-old Sean Paddock was beaten, then suffocated to death by his devout Christian parents. The parents were following Proverbs 23:13-14.

    On 23 March 2008 in Wisconsin, 11 year-old Madeline Neumann was murdered by her devout Christian parents, when they refused to treat her diabetes with anything but prayer. The parents were following Luke 8:50, James 5:16.

    On 5 February 2010 in California, 7 year-old Lydia Schatz was beaten to death by her devout Christian adoptive parents. She was beaten for mispronouncing a word. The parents were following Proverbs 23:13-14.

    On 12 May 2011 in Washington, 13 year-old Hana Grace-Rose Williams was beaten and starved by her devout Christian adoptive parents until she died of hypothermia. The parents were following Proverbs 23:13-14, Joel 2:12.

    On 11 October 2015 in New York, 19 year-old Lucas Leonard was beaten to death by members of the Word of Life Christian Church, after he expressed a desire to leave the church. His killers’ actions were based on Deuteronomy 13:6-11, Deuteronomy 17:2-20, 2 Chronicles 15:13.

    On 20 October 2015 in Kentucky, 49 Year-old Laura Reid beat a disabled man using the man’s metal walking cane. She then kept him prisoner for three hours while she robbed him. She took his cellphone so he couldn’t call for help, then she left. The man was forced to crawl to a local gas station to get help. He suffered serious injuries, including a concussion and a broken arm. He was beaten because he said he did not believe in God. Reid’s actions were based in Deuteronomy 13:6-11, Deuteronomy 17:2-20, 2 Chronicles 15:13.

    On 24 December 2015 in Arizona, 20-year-old Crystal Hillman was shot to death by devout Christian Anitra Braxton because Hillman claimed not to believe in God. The killer’s actions were based on Deuteronomy 13:6-11, Deuteronomy 17:2-20, 2 Chronicles 15:13.

    On 22 August 2016 in London, England, Kennedy Ife, a 26-year-old marketing consultant, died after he had been restrained with cable ties, rope and handcuffs for several days by his family. The family was convinced that he was possessed by evil spirits. The family was following Mark 9:25-27.

    On 6 February 2017, the parents of newborn baby Abigail Piland declined to seek any medical treatment after she appeared jaundiced. Days later, Abigail was dead. A medical examiner later attributed it to “unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus,” both jaundice-related problems that are treatable. The parents were following Luke 8:50, James 5:16.

    On 31 October 2017, Amber James strangled her nine-year-old son, Ryan Rosales, to death to save him from demons. She was following John 11:25.

    On 20 April 2018 in Wisconsin, Ethan Hauschultz was ordered by his uncle, Timothy Hauschultz, to carry wood weighing 2/3rds of his body weight. Over the course of an hour and a half, Ethan was hit repeatedly by Timothy’s son, who kicked and stood on him, then buried him alive in snow, after which time Ethan died. He was killed for not being able to recite 13 bible verses. The family was following Joshua 1:8.

  • Its called Faith!

  • MurphsLaw

    ah yes…..if only the WHOLE world could be an Atheist WORLD – where everyone was an Atheist….. and then of course we could finally celebrate our Atheist heroes….
    like STALIN- MAO – POL POT – MUSSOLINI- KIM JONG.etc. ….your fave here__________ heck throw in closer to home Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy too for the Atheists who may be bored.. ……. If only our world could be total and full of thoughtful human beings such as those…..